POET INTERVIEW – DAMON DEAN (SEVEN ACRE SKY)
It occurred to me that many of you may not be aware that The Institute of Children’s Literature has provided Poetic Bloomings with several delightful, imaginative, skilled writers. These include Meena Rose, Claudette Young, Kate Wilson (aka Kate de los Conejos), Erin Kay Hope, Hannah Gosselin, and today’s interview guest: Damon Dean (charmingly known as Seven Acre Sky). It is my pleasure to welcome this fine gentleman!
Damon’s poetry consistently reflects his awe of all of God’s creation. My personal favorite is Kingfisher. This is actually not only my favorite of Damon’s himself, but is one of my favorites penned by any poet I know. The best way (in my opinion) to enjoy this poem is to listen to Damon read it in his own enchanting voice: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/50183408/The%20Kingfisher.mp3.
When asked to provide one of his own poems to share with us, Damon decided on a piece none of us have yet had the privilege of seeing – save for his wife. He says simply, “I just like it.” And I just like that refreshing attitude. 😉
What the Barn Was Wondering (by Damon Dean)
I find myself again
standing here where
yesterday I stood when
I glance upon the rows
of peas and corn
unvisited by him for
oh…how many days?
He stays inside his home.
I wonder why
while grasses in his garden plot
It could be
that he is like I am…
…his hinges rusty, his tin roof bent
and torn by wind,
while rats run out and in
where boards are warped or gone
along his walls.
It was last spring
His ribs began to show.
He laid aside his
garden hoe and
raised his shirt to wipe the sweat away.
I saw his rafters then,
showing through his
The dog has said
it is called ‘sad,’
a word I guess a barn
can never know.
I heard him try to
tell the cow, once,
what sad was,
back when the woman’s bones fell in.
…if the farmers bones fall in now,
will he be carried off somehow,
like the old woman was?
Or will he fall,
into a heap,
his memories quietly consumed
by termites in his sleep,
MARIE ELENA: Wow. (Is it distasteful to begin an interview with “wow?”) Perhaps I need to rethink my “favorite” of yours, Damon. This piece is give-me-pause brilliance.
Many know you only as Seven Acre Sky. This is also the name of your blog (http://sevenacresky.wordpress.com/). For me, it conjures images of a vast and beautiful fall sky, with white and charcoal downy clouds intermingled with deep blue space and variant lighting. What made you choose this unusual name?
DAMON: About 11 years ago we bought our current home…stumbled upon it. There was a small plastic for sale sign stapled to a wooden fence, and driving by I asked my wife Becky, “Do you think it’s the fence for sale or the house?” Called the number, and soon bought the place—seven acres needing much tender-loving-care, house and yard begging for help. There are 110 pines in our yard (the three acres) and a 4-acre pasture out back, garden in-between. Investing retirement time, sweat, and a little money (I’m actually semi-retired) we’ve made it home. The house has lots of windows and the sky comes in at will; either bright happy sun, soft cloudy-day shadow, or the calm comforting dark of quiet night, starshine and moonlight. They are all welcome guests. The name SevenAcreSky came naturally. I used it for my consulting services name for a few years, but it has evolved into my writing moniker, and it fits. In my mind, sky invites wonder…it’s open, it’s wide, it draws the gaze of the eyes, the mind, and the soul. It can change color and mood, shift from gentle to angry, be a pensive listener, or speak quiet volumes in reply to sometimes un-word-able questions.
MARIE ELENA: Stunning. Absolutely stunning. And “The sky comes in at will” made me smile wide and envision exactly that.
You are obviously a nature lover, and I know you are from Arkansas. Personally, I know very little about Arkansas.
DAMON: Southeast Arkansas is flat. We aren’t in the Ozark Mountains corner of the state, with pristine streams and clear lakes, and rocky bluffs topped with bronze autumn glory. Instead we are piney-bayou country, with slow dark rivers and lazy swerving creeks creeping through mixed forests or acorn-strewn woodland. Cypress swamps may border wide waterways, or stumpy oaks may grasp the edges of winding creeks, knobby knurled roots exposed.
We are muggy in summer, mild-wintered, with brief noisy-green springs and crispy-dry breezy autumns. But the woods are lovely, dark and deep…oh. Sorry. They are lovely, with a plethora of forest life that is at home in your back yard as much as in the woods. I hear hawks screech from the sky every day. A barn owl whispers soft goodnights some evenings. Cooing doves flutter up in a flush of bother if you round the corner and surprise them. Deer stare at me and my flashlight when I let out the housedogs before bedtime, their eyes shining like planets fallen from the night. Spring peepers creak while bullfrogs croak in a ring around the garden pond as if they are contestants on ‘Nature’s Got Talent’ to impress the reflected wavy white moon floating on the water like a judge.
MARIE ELENA: *sigh* You have succeeded in making me croon. My husband would agree … you are surrounded with what we would both consider ideal. Bless your heart! No wonder you write nature poetry so well.
When did you become interested in poetry? What (or who) sparked that interest?
DAMON: I’d have to say that Mrs. Locke, my sixth-grade teacher, did three things to endear me to poetry. She taught me poetry (we memorized, recited, and wrote); she fanned my confidence (she read my work aloud, and bragged, and tacked it to hallway corkboards); and she laughed or cried or giggled or smiled or wrinkled her brow when she read it. Of course, she did that for every kid in class who wrote for her. But when she did it for me, my heart leapt, and has been leaping ever since when I get to write aloud about the wonder of life.
MARIE ELENA: It just so happens that many of our Poetic Bloomings poets are teachers. Having a positive, encouraging teacher in a child’s life makes a world of difference, for sure. God bless Mrs. Locke.
Damon, I’ve got to tell you – usually I can dig around and find information on my interview guests. That just isn’t the case with you. I searched and searched, and came up with very little. You’ve made this hard on me, I must say! 😉 So tell me – do you have any other hobbies or loves besides writing?
DAMON: I do love nature, so that involves fishing and hunting, hiking, camping, geocaching (you can google it if you aren’t familiar), and drawing and painting. Pen and ink with watercolor is my favorite medium (media?). Oh…love to cook. And eat. Love our dogs, Daisy and Lady. We have goats and horses on the place, so piddling with them is fun.
MARIE ELENA: You also have another hobby that I’m well aware of – writing specifically for children. What got you started down that path?
DAMON: I sorta retired 11 years ago. I’ve worked in education my whole career, beginning as an elementary teacher in 1976. Later I moved to administration and in the end school business management, but my heart stayed in the classroom. I love teaching. I love seeing minds whirl and stir, and eyes brighten with new knowledge. Writing for children is living out a passion that’s deeper than the craft itself, but only in the last three years have I had the chance to seriously pursue it. All my life I’ve told made-up stories to kids; those characters are still alive in my mind. I’ve read aloud to nieces and nephews and my daughters and classes and school assemblies; in random spontaneous moments, or by bedtime routine. Writing for children is my dream coming alive.
MARIE ELENA: You have said, “Why kids read is why I write.” Exactly what do you mean by that?
DAMON: Have you ever heard a child’s gasp of wonder at the cliff-hanger end of a chapter? Or watched surprise burst from their faces at a page-turn? Priceless sight, precious sound. I love when that happens. I believe wonder is a God-given thrill that is in the heart of every human, especially tender and fresh in our children. Stories are the best way to satisfy that thrill, and not just to satisfy it, but to nurture it for the full potential it was meant to have. A child’s mind (and yours and mine too) is not just made for logic and facts, but for emotion and mood and meaning. The full scale of human response can be prompted by a good story, a good poem, a well-written adventure. What satisfies us more than a full human response? Nothing. Marie, I could write an answer forever on this…I hold some life-driving beliefs about our purpose, and it’s broadly philosophical—but much of what I believe is the root of why I write.
MARIE ELENA: … and another “wow.” I don’t believe I have ever heard a better explanation, nor more captivatingly expressed. I can only imagine that one day there will be books with your name on them that enchant children in precisely the way you describe.
To that end, you have participated in PiBoIdMo. What can you tell us about it?
DAMON: Oh! Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo has been one of my favorite discoveries since I’ve begun to pursue writing seriously. Even though I’m semi-retired, I find it difficult to stay accountable to writing time. Events like PiBoIdMo, where participants write down a picture-book-idea for each day in the month of November, help me stay accountable to the craft. I committed to it last year, and found a community of writers that encouraged one another and relished everyone’s accomplishments. The daily emailed guests gave treasured writing ideas and concepts from their hearts. I ended up with 30 ideas (they are simmering on my Blackberry) and some of them have become full-fledged stories.
The thing about PiBoIdMo that’s so worthwhile is the same thing I find in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge group, where participants write a full picture-book draft once a month. It’s also found at the ICL Writer’s Retreat forum. And guess what? It’s the heart and soul of Poetic Bloomings too. It’s COMMUNITY. Hearts and minds gather in a garden of expression, enjoying the two-way surprises and pleasures of full human response through word and story.
MARIE ELENA: Hear, hear! Thank you for the kind words, Damon. Yes, we certainly do have a wonderfully supportive community here. Walt and I pinch ourselves often.
What is your main goal in writing for children? Earn a living? Sheer enjoyment? Having a book with your name on it live and breathe through generations of children?
DAMON: Someone at Children’s Book Insider recently posed a survey question, asking which you would be more excited about: (1) a $2500 advance check in the mail from a publisher, or (2) being guaranteed your book would be enjoyed by children forever. I thought at first I’d easily choose #2, but then I realized the answers can’t be exclusive of one another. Certainly if I got money for something not well written, that would not be fully satisfying. But I’d not be satisfied writing junk anyway. I’d love it if something I wrote had the virtues of a classic. But the joy for me really comes from the writing. I’ve written poems, for instance, that may never see the light of day, but I can recall them with deep satisfaction, remembering when and where I wrote many of them; what I felt that moment, what my life was spelling out then, or what feeling prompted the notion. There’s the satisfaction. The hope is there, of course, that someone will read and know what you meant. But that’s independent of the moment that your writing came about.
So, your middle choice—sheer enjoyment—gives me an easy answer. A dime and/or a reader’s response are just bonuses to me.
MARIE ELENA: Love that attitude of yours, Damon. Love it.
What a great photo of you and your wife. How did you meet, and how did you come to propose to her?
DAMON: Becky and I have been married for 16 years. Neither I nor Becky proposed. We just said one day, “When do you think we ought to get married?” We are both previously married, and have learned so much from the whole fractured family experience. We both have wonderful exes, and appreciate the grace with which we’ve all learned to live life together for our now-grown children and one grandchild. I know that’s not always available, and rarely easy, for many divorced couples. But it’s a peace worth pursuing, I can tell you that. It may take a lot of prayer and a little bit of grit.
MARIE ELENA: … and yet ANOTHER wow. That is impressive, Damon. Not many divorcees would describe their ex as “wonderful.” You and Becky are definitely blessed.
What do you think it takes to make a marriage successful?
DAMON: Marriages that succeed take a lot of prayer and a little bit of grit too. I’d rather young people learn prayer and grit before relationships break, than learn it after. We teach young adults at church, and take every chance to encourage them to seek and employ God’s help in marriage and family. We use our failures, and our successes, as examples. We strive to be transparent with them. Young people need transparency, honesty…there’s so much in media and culture that distorts reality for them these days.
MARIE ELENA: Oh boy, are you ever SPOT ON. I’m thankful there are young folks who have mentors like you and Becky to show them that transparency.
Do you have any children? Grandchildren?
DAMON: My two adult daughters, Tonya and Hannah, live far away. Tonya just received a Master’s in Social Work from George Washington University in St. Louis; she is a community development liaison for a group in St. Louis. Hannah and husband Mark live on the beach in St. Pete, Florida. I mean on the beach. You walk out to the sand and surf. She is a landscape architect, in project design and concept, while Mark is in insurance. Becky’s son Dan and his wife Jane live 2 miles away. Dan is an Information Tech for our local hospital, while Jane is in communication broadcasting with a local radio station. They have our only grandchild, Bethany, who at age 5 is much of my current writing inspiration.
What a cutie she is! Grandchildren are the best!
I must say that nothing in this interview comes as a surprise. You seem to be the nature-loving, level-headed, faith-filled, low-key, humble man that shines through your poetry.
DAMON: Marie, your kind words are cherished.
MARIE ELENA: Just speaking the truth. 🙂 Now, what do we not know about you that would take us by surprise?
DAMON: That’s a hard one, Marie. I’m pretty predictable. BUT, there aren’t many people who know I have another dream on the side…I want to master playing the viola. I bought one with a gift my fellow Arkansas business managers gave me when I quit consulting statewide in order to pursue writing. I’m horrible at it. But I love it. I dream of taking time to learn it well…even if only well enough for the squirrels to listen.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, how fun!
Damon, I’ve loved getting to know you better. I really don’t want this interview to stop, but I know we need to wrap things up. So it’s time to ask … if you could share only one thing about yourself, what would it be?
DAMON: Wow, if only one thing, it would be that I’m keenly aware I don’t belong to myself. My life belongs to Jesus, my Savior. I know I’ve been purchased. I would hope that is obvious, though in reality it isn’t always visible in my life. My hope is I can be used easily for the will, the work and purpose He has for me. I believe writing is a part of that.